Tuesday, June 26, 2018

On Gull Beach by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall

The Cornell Lab has commissioned a series of books featuring various birds. I’ve had mixed feelings about some of the previous titles, but I did like this one.

Rhythmic, lyrical poetry follows a dark-haired child across the beach. They have found a sea star, but it is caught out of their reach by a gull. The gulls squabble over the sea star, dropping and catching it in the air. The child follows eagerly across the beach, passing crabs and beach grass, tidal pools and stones. The child’s hands catch the sea star and they return it to the sea, safe from the gulls on Gull Beach.

An afterword talks about bird life on a New England beach. The titular gulls are herring gulls, and there are also pictures of and information about sanderlings, willets, and snowy egrets. Other tide pool and beach creatures like crabs, sea stars, and horseshoe crabs are also described. Links and suggestions for environmental action are also included. The bird information includes links to hear their calls.

Marstall’s soft illustrations show a wind-blown beach with colorful stones and small creatures busy about their lives. Birds are everywhere; gulls swooping across the sky, egrets and sanderlings crossing the sand in the distance or tucked into corners of the beach.

This would be an interesting title to read before visiting the beach, but I do have some reservations. Marstall’s illustrations are pretty, but not clear or focused enough to make identification of the birds possible in several instances. I prefer the work of the Sills, whose clear, simple illustrations make it easy to identify the various species of both plants and animals pictured. Yolen’s poetry is lovely, but overly anthropomorphic, portraying the gulls as playing with the sea star for fun and the child saving it from “gullish slaughter.” This is more a reflective title to read, evocative of the calls of gulls, the spread of the beach, and the surge of the sea, rather than an informational, nonfiction title. The back matter is interesting and would make this a good book to pair with other titles for readers interested in birds, for classroom studies, or for poetry units.

Verdict: An additional choice, one that would work well in concert with other titles. We maintain a birdwatching area and several science programs in our library and this book would be a good addition to our curriculum in this area. Our schools also do a poetry unit and would find this useful.

ISBN: 9781943645183; Published 2018 by Cornell Lab Publishing Group; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

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